Commentary: There Goes Another Mid-Sized Pickup…

Mercedes-Benz Concept X-CLASS - Photo provided by Daimler AG
Mercedes-Benz Concept X-CLASS – Photo provided by Daimler AG

It was only a matter of time that Mercedes-Benz would enter in the pickup business.

But, first, the news item: Mercedes-Benz took the first step into the pickup truck business by giving us two concepts based on the future X-Class vehicle. They did so at an unveiling in Stockholm, Sweden for a vehicle that could expand the brand in an area that had only played with the truck business through various products – such as the ancestors to the current Sprinter and the Unimog. They have done so with the flatbed/folding-open side panel format, attached to the cab and chassis.

Before anyone asks the question, there is some sort of reasoning here. The new X-Class will be marketed under the commercial vehicle family, also known as Mercedes-Benz Vans. It is an actual product fit considering that it augments the current lineup of light-duty vehicles – mainly the Metris and Sprinter sold in North America.

However, the presentation showed two concepts – The "Stylish Explorer" and "Powerful Adventurer." Both concepts are variations of the same theme – a body-on-frame, crew cab, short box pickup that follows international convention seen on other mid-sized pickups. Mercedes-Benz was not specific on a lot of details, but they did elude to a V6 diesel powerplant, 4MATIC four-wheel drive and many of the safety and technology pieces seen on Mercedes-Benz passenger cars and vans.

Mercedes-Benz is not doing this alone. This vehicle was developed from existing platforms in cooperation with the Renault-Nissan Alliance. You can safely say that it shares the frame and other key components with the NP300 – the soon-to-be-coming-to-North America 2018 Nissan Frontier. However, Mercedes-Benz said that it will produce this pickup out of two Renault-Nissan plants: Barcelona, Spain and Cordoba, Argentina.

This all sounds great, except for one small detail. This truck will not be sold here in the USA and Canada. Mercedes-Benz said it will start sales of the pickup in 2017 for European markets, along with Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Sounds familiar? Think Volkswagen Amarok. That is considered a very good mid-sized pickup that would do well against the Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Nissan Frontier, Honda Ridgeline, and the impending return of the Ford Ranger to our market. It is a premium product – somewhere touching the GMC Canyon Denali, but going beyond in terms of content and the expected level of Mercedes-Benz luxury.

That last sentence should be scrutinized. While the concept shows a luxurious cabin, the reality is normally seen in the Metris and Sprinter vans. Obviously, you do not see swirling speaker housings with Bermester tweeters behind them in a Metris, do you? Nor do you see the cut-and-sew seating found on various passenger car models costing $60,000 and beyond in a Sprinter? That is, unless you customized one with such luxuries.

This is yet another vehicle people think we should care about that we will never get. With the upcoming Frontier and Ranger waiting in the wings, we are still missing products that would help the cause of mid-sized pickups. Yet, this market dictates that we want half-ton, full-sized rigs. We want high profit machinery that can haul more than just some mid-sized pickup. Besides, mid-sizers are for fun and marketed towards folks with active lifestyles…right?

The Mercedes-Benz X-Class is another exercise on how to leverage into the pickup market by avoiding the biggest marketplace of all. We get it – Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand are similar markets, but utilize smaller products to achieve practically the same thing. The X-Class, along with the Toyota Hi-Lux, the global Ford Ranger, the Volkswagen Amarok and the Nissan NP300 fit perfectly for these markets as machines designed for both work and play.

Up here, we say that we want mid-sized pickups, but we end up being disappointed. "We" being pickup customers who would like a mid-sized truck for its flexibility and relative fuel consumption, but end up getting a Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado or Ram 1500 because they offer more cab space, more performance and better real world fuel economy and greater range. A good example was the last GMC Sierra Denali I drove got better fuel economy from its 6.2 liter V8 and 8-speed automatic than the GMC Canyon with its V6 and 6-speed autobox.

These arguments are not new. They're provoked by the presence of a big splash on social media with the opening line of "hey, we're playing in this sandbox now!" Once us North Americans found out that it is not coming here, our collective sigh leads into the "we can't have nice things" chorus. It's frustrating, to say the least.

If you're a reader from Argentina, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and in Europe – congratulations! You're getting a premium pickup to choose from in about a year or so. For us North Americans – meh…

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